I grow weary…very weary, of the Christian marketing machine, of doctrinal grenades tossed into theological foxholes, as if the biggest enemy is the one whose faith in the resurrected Jesus is nuanced different than our own. Walking down the streets of Seattle years ago, I encountered a man who was distributing Bibles and leaflets, inviting people to know Christ. When he offered me a Bible I held up my hand and said, “No thanks, I have several already. I’m a believer.”
He turned and faced me directly: “Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and given evidence of that by speaking in tongues?”
“Baptized yes. Tongues, not really.”
“Then you’re not saved,” he said, which led to an escalating Bible war, as we each pulled out our favorite scripture weapons to defend our pneumatology, as if anyone cared. The only person in listening distance who cared was a woman who, upon hearing us, said to her partner as she passed by, “That’s why I left the church.”
Sure, there are limits, doctrinal fences and boarders, beyond which one can’t be considered to be in the stream of historic orthodoxy. But the discussions about election, speaking in tongues, who will be “left behind” and when, and precisely who is or isn’t in hell are mostly misguided. Here’s why:
These discussions presume that we know more than we do. Just a quick glance at church history can show you that we’ve considered ourselves to be right lots of times, when the reality is that we were wrong. This is because we bring a cultural lens to our reading of the Bible. Even though the Holy Spirit truly does teach us as we read the Bible, such a promise makes no claim that we’ll have some sort of perfect interpretation, any more than the Bible ever claims that we’ll be perfect people here in time, in these imperfect bodies. Paul tells us that which is of first importance:
Jesus died for our sins.
Jesus rose from the dead.
That changes everything, including the destiny of bodies, the trajectory of human history, the means of dealing with grief and loss, the way we can love enemies, the way we can care for those on the margins, the way we can believe that God is able to intervene in history supernaturally, therefore leading us to pray, which leads to intimacy, which leads to fruit, hope, joy, forgiveness, guidance and so much, much more.
“Ah,” the doctrinal warriors says, “but none of this works if the earth isn’t 6,000 years old, or if you don’t speak in tongues, or if you can’t subscribe to the notion that the image of God in humanity was completely obliterated when Adam sinned, or if you believe that health care, or small government, or big government is a good idea. IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE LIKE I DO…YOU’RE NOT IN, YOU’RE OUT”Really? Even though we both claim Jesus is Lord? Even though we both subscribe to the things Paul says are of “first importance”? How did we come to this embarrassing situation, shooting each other all the time? Rob Bell vs. John Piper. Emergent vs. Neo-Orthodox. Republican Christianity vs. Democratic Christianity. “I am of Paul. I am of Apollos. I am of Christ”? The Apostle Paul has a name for this kind of behavior: immaturity.
How about this for an alternative:
Let’s become known as those who are FOR God’s story in the world, rather than AGAINST each other. Our message is, after all, called “good news”. God is for the poor. God is for justice. God is for reconciliation. God is for forgiveness. God is for freedom, wholeness, beauty, celebration, healing, joy.
Listen: We’re writing future history today. When the world looks back at the beginning of the 21st century, what will they see? Holy Wars? Jihads? Doctrinal grenades? Yes… but it’s not too late to write a different story, to paint a different picture:
1. Love your neighbors, and your enemies. Show, somehow, that it’s not just an idea. The reconciliation project in Rwanda might inspire to believe that it’s possible to forgive those who’ve wronged us.
2. Find a way to be a blessing where you live. Work with immigrants. Volunteer to teach something. Serve…there are a thousand ways, and the Bible says this—not arguing about doctrinal nuances, is pure religion.
3. Create beauty. A well-cooked meal; a marriage built to last through daily vulnerability, kindness, honesty, endurance, romance; a painting or pottery lovingly created; a child loved; a prayer offered; a book written; a relationship built; a gift given; these are the colors of hope.
My new book is about this. Colonialism, crusades, slavery, oppression, land theft, and environmental degradation spilled the colors blood and destruction on the canvass past centuries. It’s been ugly, too often, in too many places.
Now it’s our turn. The Colors of Hope invites God’s people to paint a different picture on the canvass of our world—using God’s colors of hope to create something beautiful. We can become known by what we’re FOR… God’s justice, mercy, and love.
Why is it so easy for God’s people to divide, and so hard to be known as people of justice, mercy, and love? I welcome your thoughts!
PS: As I get ready to spread the word about this book, I’ll be asking for a little help. For starters, if anyone knows how to work with Facebook to alter the standard pages, I could use your help as I build a page for my book. Please let me know if you’re interested and able to help with the tech side of building the page.